“Next year is the year”
Since 1908, this sentiment has reverberated off of the lips of generations of Chicago Cubs fans. More often than not, the words rang hollow, more wishful thinking than a prediction they thought would come to fruition. Now, when the people of the Windy City utter those five words, you can hear something new in their voices: hope.
Just as was the case in every Cubs’ season in the last century, the 2015 campaign ended in disappointment. The champagne flowed at Wrigley Field Wednesday night, but it was from the visitor’s clubhouse. The New York Mets defeated the Cubs 8-3, sweeping the NLCS to advance to the World Series. Mets pitching and Daniel Murphy’s bat simply proved too much for the Cubs to handle.
As Cubs fans often do (just ask Steve Bartman), it would be easy to find a scapegoat (emphasis on goat) to pin the blame upon. There was the wild pitch that allowed the Mets to score the winning run on a strikeout in game three. But if you look at the series as a whole, one thing became abundantly clear: the Cubs simply were not ready.
Winners of their final eight regular season games, the Cubs entered the playoffs as the hottest team in baseball. The cool weather seemed to cool their bats however, and by the end of the NLCS, they were ice cold. Their .164 team batting average against the Mets ranks as the lowest all-time in an NLCS. Chicago never led the series. Young players, like rookie phenom Kris Bryant, struck out more far more often than they struck paydirt. The team proved unable to elevate their play when they needed to most, and now they will be watching the Fall Classic, just four wins short of playing in it.
It was inexperience that proved to be the Cubs’ greatest shortcoming. With all due respect to veterans like Jon Lester, the majority of the Cubs lineup is is simply not accustomed to postseason baseball. They tried to do too much, made mistakes and ultimately fell short. The team’s average age during the 2015 season was 28.3, which ranks as the third-youngest in the National League. The last time the Cubs made the playoffs was 2008. How many players are remaining with the Cubs from that team? Zero.
Experience comes with time. You can’t win unless you learn how to lose. Of all the losses that the Cubs have racked up, perhaps none have been more important than the four that came against the Mets. The Cubs got a taste of the playoffs, seeing where they could go on talent alone. In 2016, they will be hungry, and with a little more experience under their belts, they should be even more dangerous.
As it turned out, “Back to the Future II,” was not a prophecy, it was simply a movie. That being said, the Cubs indeed look like the team of the future; and, billy goat be damned, the future may be coming very, very soon.